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Venezuela pressures foreign partners on oil venture commitments: sources

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(Reuters) – Foreign partners of Venezuela’s PDVSA are facing pressure from the state-run oil firm to publicly declare whether they will continue as minority stakeholders in Orinoco Belt projects following U.S. sanctions, three people familiar with the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: The corporate logo of the state oil company PDVSA is seen at a gas station in Caracas, Venezuela, January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

The sanctions on Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), imposed last month in an attempt to dislodge Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, barred access to U.S. financial networks and oil supplies for the PDVSA joint ventures, pressuring the nation’s already falling crude output and exports.

PDVSA’s Orinoco Belt joint venture partners, mostly U.S. or European companies, are facing difficulties getting cash-flow out of the country as a result of the sanctions, straining their ability to continue output and exports.

PDVSA has been in talks with the companies to persuade them to commit publicly to the joint ventures, the sources said in recent days.

PDVSA did not reply to a request for comment. On Monday, Venezuelan Oil Minister and PDVSA head Manuel Quevedo said on a visit to India that relations with international oil companies including Chevron were continuing.

France’s Total SA, Norway’s Equinor ASA, Russia’s Rosneft and U.S.-based Chevron hold minority stakes in joint ventures with PDVSA that produce crude and operate oil upgraders capable of converting the country’s extra-heavy oil into exportable grades.

The four crude upgraders are capable of converting up to 700,000 barrels per day. The oil is exported by the joint ventures and each partner receive its share of the exports.

Total believes it can stay in Venezuela, its Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said on Monday, although the firm last week said its bank accounts were blocked and it had evacuated its foreign employees.

Rosneft has continued working normally at its Petromonagas joint venture with PDVSA, according to the sources.

Equinor declined to comment on operational issues, referring questions to Petrocedeno, its joint venture with PDVSA.

Chevron’s operations in Venezuela are continuing, a spokesman said on Monday, reiterating that the company was committed “to the country’s energy development in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.”

Even if the companies commit to Venezuela, their ability to produce could be crimped by the sanctions. PDVSA last week ordered Petrocedeno to halt oil production and upgrading, due to a lack of naphtha to dilute the extra-heavy crude, according to sources from the project.

The Petrocedeno-PDVSA venture’s 220,000-bpd upgrader was already out of service when the decision was made, one of the people said. It is unclear when oil output will be halted.

PDVSA is studying if the other joint ventures in the Orinoco will have to halt operations, with diluent supplies dwindling, the people said.

India’s Reliance and PDVSA’s U.S. unit Citgo Petroleum are the main suppliers of naphtha to Venezuela, according to internal PDVSA data. Those flows have declined since sanctions took effect on Jan. 28, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis in Oslo, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

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S&P 500 posts highest close since November 8 on trade optimism

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – The S&P 500 posted its highest closing level since Nov. 8 on Friday as investors clung to signs of progress in the ongoing trade talks between the United States and China.

Investors assessed a slew of headlines on the talks, with top trade negotiators from the two countries meeting to wrap up a week of discussions on some of the thorniest issues in their trade war.

If the two sides fail to reach a deal by midnight on March 1, then their seven-month trade war could escalate.

“People are expecting some sort of positive news on trade and tariffs with China fairly soon,” said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“But we won’t know until the end of next week,” he said, and, “there has been a lack of specifics.”

Optimism on the trade front and dovish signals from the U.S. Federal Reserve have driven the recent gains and left indexes well above their lows of December, when the market swooned on fears of an economic slowdown. The S&P 500 is now up about 19 percent since its late-December low.

The S&P 500 technology index was up 1.3 percent, leading gains among the 11 major S&P sectors, while the trade-exposed industrials index climbed 0.6 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 181.18 points, or 0.7 percent, to 26,031.81, the S&P 500 gained 17.79 points, or 0.64 percent, to 2,792.67 and the Nasdaq Composite added 67.84 points, or 0.91 percent, to 7,527.55.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

All three indexes registered gains for the week, with both the Dow and Nasdaq posting a ninth week of increases.

The number of New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq stocks hitting 52-week highs hit 367, the most since mid-September and outnumbered those hitting year lows by the widest margin in six months.

Stocks briefly pared gains after U.S. officials briefed on the negotiations said more time is likely needed in the talks given China’s resistance this week to American demands for specific steps by Beijing to end forced transfers of U.S. technology and certain other policies.

Afterward, President Donald Trump said there was a very good chance the United States would strike a deal with China to end the trade war, and that he was inclined to extend his March 1 deadline to reach an agreement.

“Right now the downside risk has been not as steep, but there’s always a concern that something happens last-minute,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

“Having a Chinese economy that stabilizes is constructive for global markets,” she said. “That’s what is key in terms of the market looking at the results.”

Kraft Heinz Co tumbled 27.5 percent, and was the biggest drag on the S&P along with a 1.7 percent fall in Class B shares of the company’s controlling stakeholder, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

The packaged food company posted a quarterly loss, disclosed a Securities and Exchange Commission probe and wrote down the value of its iconic Kraft and Oscar Mayer brands.

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Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.99-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.45-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 64 new 52-week highs and three new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 112 new highs and 21 new lows.

About 6.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges. That compares with the 7.3 billion-share daily average for the past 20 trading days.

Additional reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis

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FCA sets $14 million annual target compensation for CEO Manley: filing

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FILE PHOTO: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) CEO Mike Manley arrives at the memorial service held in honor of former CEO Sergio Marchionne in Turin, Italy, September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Massimo Pinca/File Photo

DETROIT (Reuters) – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) has set an annual compensation target for Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley consisting of pay, cash and equity bonuses of $14 million, the automaker said in a regulatory filing on Friday.

Manley took over as the head of FCA last July after the abrupt departure of his predecessor Sergio Marchionne. The company paid its new CEO 600,442 euros ($680,240) for 2018 and he will receive a bonus for 2018 of $367,000 to be paid this year.

Manley also was granted FCA 180,364 shares for his work in 2018, which will vest in 2019 if the company meets certain targets. The fair value per share on the date those were granted was $16.61, FCA said.

His target annual compensation consists of a base salary of $1.6 million, and a bonus of $2.4 million and an equity award valued at $10 million, both linked to the company hitting certain performance targets.

Former CEO Marchionne received 6.6 million euros in compensation for 2018, which consisted of nearly 2 million euros in base pay and an annual bonus for 2017 of just over 4.6 million euros.

For the 2014 to 2017 time period, Marchionne also received 2.8 million FCA shares. The fair value per share was $14.84, FCA said.

FCA chairman John Elkann received a base salary of 1.7 million euros and no annual bonus.

Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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Flattening U.S. yield curve in late 2018 ‘flashing red’ on economy: Fed’s Williams

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President and Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, John Williams, addresses a news conference in Zurich, Switzerland September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A flattening U.S. yield curve in December, which was close to being inverted, was “flashing red” about a deceleration in U.S. economic growth heading into 2019, despite some solid data at the time, New York Federal Reserve President John Williams said on Friday.

The yield curve flattens as the gap between short and long-dated yields narrow, suggesting investors’ worries about a slowing economy.

The yield curve inverts when shorter-dated yields rise above longer-dated ones. An inverted yield curve has preceded all U.S. recessions in the past 50 years.

Williams was giving closing remarks at a conference about quantitative tools, jointly sponsored by the New York Fed and the Atlanta Federal Reserve.

Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Diane Craft

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